In the proverbial hot seat


GOOD players do not always turn out to be good coaches. Particularly, if the country in question is Brazil where it is said the Manager of the national team carries more value than the country's President. Mario Lobo Zagalo had found success as a player in the 1958 and '62 World Cups, as the Coach in 1970 and as a Technical Director in 1994. But all that was forgotten in 1998 in France when Brazil slipped in the title round after high drama owing to a debilitating and mysterious ailment to the World's finest player then, as per a FIFA poll, Ronaldo.

That it had to happen before the final was ironic. Instead of witnessing a performance of surpassing intensity and class, the very many thousands at the Stade de France and the millions across the globe, to whom the image was beamed on television, saw the picture of agony of a great performer. What went wrong was a question that triggered perhaps the longest debate till date in the sport and only four years later, that is now, do we know the crux of the mystery illness.

The point here is why did coach Zagalo, the man with such rich experience and wisdom, decide on playing Ronaldo when he never looked the sizzler he was known to be. Celebrated writer Brian Glanville, in his The Story of the World Cup mentions that Ronaldo's name was not even there in the playing list on the eve of the final. That only added another dimension to the mystery.

There were allegations that the team sponsors forced Zagalo to have Ronaldo in the team despite the player being far from fit, but this was expectedly brushed aside. Whatever be the provocation or strategy, Zagalo's bid for another Cup derailed there, though experts felt had Edmondo (who came as substitute much later for Ronaldo) played as per the original team list, the Brazilians could have seen another success.

Celebrated for his intuition and quick-thinking, Zagalo met the fate of those who fail. It was the same Zagalo, who, with vital changes in the 1970 squad, had done wonders to the team which went on to win the Cup for the third time. Observers say Zagalo was always lucky in what he did. It was that way then when he decided on using Rivelino as a left winger. In a jiffy he had solved the problem on how to utilise him along with the trusted talent, Gerson. With Tostao recovering amazingly quickly and returning from an eye injury (retina detachment after a ball struck his eye) sustained during training, 'luck' which had deserted Joao Saldanha arrived for his successor Zagalo in big measure.

Saldanha's folly, despite being considered an intellectual and a revolutionary, was that he even went to the extent of displacing Pele from the team, more because of his personal problems with the great player. That was the last straw, for no sooner had he contemplated the unthinkable, came his disappearance from the scene. The rest was history as Zagalo marshalled the best possible artists in hand to take Brazil to glory, stressing on playing attacking football.

But as Zagalo realised, the world rejoices with the coach only when he delivers. Disaster can leave him an orphan. That is the life of modern day managers. They skate on thin ice and are subjected to such pressure that few have come out unscathed. But the challenge is always invigorating. Ask Bora Milutinovic, the current Chinese coach and a man who acquired fame for his Midas touch.

The Yugoslav, who had taken Mexico, Costa Rica, the US and Nigeria to the World Cup final round since 1986, proved his ability by booking China's passage to the coming Japan-Korea edition. Milutinovic had taken Mexico to the quarter-final and all the others to the second round. He is a man who works with the zeal of a missionary. Hard work and discipline form the pillars of his plans. And then, he reads the game shrewdly. In the 1990 edition he once drew a diagram from the sideline to explain the tactics for his key striker Jara to score. And score Jara did for Costa Rica to beat Scotland.

Similarly, against Sweden in the same championship, his ploy of bringing in an additional striker when the contest was evenly balanced worked and Hernan Medford got the match-winner. "Attitude decides everything." The phrase seen on his hat is his goal always. His aim is to ensure that his players have assimilated his ideas, tactics, style and attitude by the time of the World Cup. He tries to mould team-men, for collective strength is the key to his plans. To what extent Milutonivic will take China along only time will tell, but he is already satisfied that he has achieved what he had set out for - to take the country into the final round. Seeing the high Chinese expectations in what is their country's debut in the World Cup final round, he had only one request to the fans there, to remember that Korea which had played in five World Cups had never won a single game.

The pressure of expectations is more if the manager is involved with his own national team. Zagalo experienced it when he replaced Joao Saldanha only a few months before the final round in 1970. However, in 1978, Claudio Coutinho in his anxiety to deliver tried to stress more on defensive tactics. This tended to curb the Brazilian flair and when the campaign misfired, it raised a public protest. Eventually, it required the touch of Tele Santana, another noted trainer of Brazil, to restore the original style of Brazilian play. Santana believed in giving the players freedom to think and act. This freedom of expression, coupled with the boundless enthusiasm for improvisation, resulted in stars like Zico, Junior, Socrates, Cerezo, Falcao and Eder making Brazil a favourite for the 1982 edition.

England had a different experience under Sir Alf Ramsey, a man who can claim a place in English football history for being the Manager of the triumphant 1966 World Cup team. A former player, who captained England thrice, Ramsey was known for his cool-headedness and capacity for critical analysis combined with decisive action. They called him 'The General' for this. In 1963 when he took the job as England manager, Ramsey predicted that England would win the next World Cup. Meticulous planning and preparation followed.

A right back in the national team earlier, Ramsey instilled a sense of loyalty that was to become the recipe for success. He believed in team strength more than individual brilliance. The way he dropped Bobby Moore in the run-up to the World Cup to help the defender regain the hunger for success and also refused to bow to pressure on his other choices were notable. And when the great moment came the man himself showed no emotion.

Recognition came but when four years later England failed to show the same touch and crashed out in the quarterfinal, Ramsey was heaped with criticism for his cautious tactics. Critics said that his 4-4-2 style failed to click because the two attackers could not cope with the pressure. If they had succeeded then Ramsey would have been hailed for another great act. England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup and it was time for Ramsey to be sacked, not only for his failed strategies but as FA officials were to reckon, for poor public relations!

If Ramsey's undoing was in taking his 'autonomous' powers too far, then the Dutch coach Rinus Michels became famous for his autocratic ways that nearly brought Holland the chance to lift the 1974 Cup. Michels was the man who really put to practice the 'total football' concept in Dutch soccer. Michels had played five international matches for Holland but quickly realised he would be better off coaching, because he had the flair. After Ajax and Feyenoord had a great time under his coaching and when his fame went beyond his country's borders to Spanish club Barcelona, it was time for the Dutch Federation to give him the opportunity to handle the national team for the '74 World Cup.

Known for his uncompromising stand on discipline and ability to read a player's mind, Michels was able to vibe with the team better and get across his stringent requirements. He took over when the side was ridden with squabbles mostly on payment issues. Michels restored order with his shrewd arguments. In the end he was able to get the best out of the players as Holland went past Uruguay, Bulgaria, Argentina, East Germany and then Brazil before falling at the final hurdle. Four years later, Holland was to produce a similar act to trip in the final. Michels lived on to remain a strong force in the Dutch Federation, but the country continues to wait for the elusive Cup.

A lot more successful with his forthright approach was 'Kaiser' Franz Beckenbauer, the former skipper of Germany and also its coach. Beckenbauer championed the role of a libero and the world of football witnessed some of his great exploits in 1966, '70 and '74. Under his captaincy, in '74, Germany won the World Cup. For one who led by example, it was easy to get work done by his colleagues and this ability to rule over them showed when he took over the mantle of the national team manager in 1984, prior to the Mexico World Cup.

Beckenbauer did not have the credentials for a coach but his presence and the ability to read the game paid dividends. He used Allofs, Voller and the rampaging Rummenigge judiciously. Had it not been for Maradona's brilliance, Beckenbauer would have tasted success straightaway. His endorsement of attack as the best weapon and timely substitutions helped Germany come back from a 0-2 arrears in the final against Argentina before Maradona's touch of class ended Beckenbauer's pursuit.

Four years later, in Italy, Beckenbauer could avenge the defeat. He had more or less the same team, but it was better tuned. Despite tough matches, Germany could get past Holland, Czechoslovakia and England. In the final, another dour contest followed against Argentina before Sensini's foul on Voller brought the match-winner for the dead ball specialist Brehme. It was a Cup of joy both for Germany and the Kaiser, who gave up the role of a trainer with head held high.

Much before him, in Italy, the pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot fought a lone battle against home critics who found fault with his line of thinking. Known for his stern, stubborn and often controversial moves, Bearzot nonetheless was acknowledged as a master of international soccer. He had a deep faith in positive football and expected nothing less from his players. He was prepared to lose some ground, but always believed the balance would swing in his favour ultimately.

The thing about Bearzot was he was able to gain the trust of his players who were sure he would stand by them in the face of any criticism. It was during his time that the much-maligned Paolo Rossi - for his involvement in a betting scandal - became a hero when he stunningly guided Italy to the '82 World Cup triumph in Spain. Still, when Bearzot decided on the team, critics rose in unison, the allegation against him often being that he was soft on over-the-hill players. But then that was his strength.

However, four years later in Mexico, Bearzot's touch deserted him. One of the reasons was that the heroes of the previous edition, Rossi in particular, were jaded. Newcomers like Gianluca Vialli were still raw. Bearzot could not draw as much from his boys as he had done earlier and his worst moment came when in the second round against France he made the mistake of sacrificing a man to mark a far from fit Platini. The ploy failed and France beat Italy for the first time since 1920 and Bearzot's goose had been cooked. The inevitable followed. The revered coach was stripped of his post. So much for his earlier popularity!

Bearzot's qualities were shared by the chain-smoking Cesar Luis Menotti, the Argentine who also believed in the tactics of attacking football. He was the man who helped Argentina script a title-win in 1978. But first he had to counter the Spanish clubs efforts to deny him the Argentine stars playing there. Boldly he decided in getting just three - Mario Kempes, Piazza and Wolff - of the stars from Europe. Instead of rough defence and counter-attacks, Menotti pursued a theory of cohesive approach, ensuring that the ball swiftly moved in the midfield for quick shots at the goal while scuttling the rival strikers in the air. How it finally worked is the story of Argentina's success. For a change the Argentine players showed rare calmness even in the face of extreme provocation in that World Cup. The long serving Argentine coach is also credited with the judicious use of Maradona though he was not there to see the great talent flower into an outstanding player in '86.

Talk of timing an honourable exit and perhaps coach Aime Jacquet had taken the wisest step of all by stepping down when his fame was at the peak. He then accepted a more onerous assignment as Technical Director of the French Football Federation. Jacquet had guided France to its first World Cup success before an adoring home crowd in 1998. In an interview in the FIFA Magazine more than a year ago, Jacquet gave a new definition for a coach. He felt a coach in future needed to have knowledge about psychology, physiology, drugs, doping and social education.

"Depending on circumstances he will have to be at different times a teacher, a buddy, a father, a friend etc", he said. That way it was Jacquet's view that a coach was the key figure in football.

Understandably then, he decries the tendency to accuse coaches and make scapegoats of them when the chips are down. He himself was under great pressure with criticism flying thick and fast for all that he did prior to the success, but he withstood the bombardment. For this he thanked Platini, who always stood by him. It is his view that no coach should be judged from one match to another, but a whole season should be taken into account. Unless there are adequate safeguards and congenial working conditions, he feared football was in danger of losing the human side, which is personified by a coach.